A President from the heart of Dixie confronts the challenge of governing a nation
Nearly four years ago President Jimmy Carter began his first term. During his campaign, he set as a goal a government as "good . . . honest . . . decent . . . and as filled with love as are the American people."
His rise to the presidency came at a time when Americans were trying to dig themselves and their national image from under the rubble left by Watergate, the Vietnam war, and nearly a decade and a half of sporadic political violence that touched more than once the nation's highest office.
President Carter was the first chief executive in modern times to come from the deep south. The first lesson for the nation was to learn to call a president "Jimmy". And because he came to Washington with precious little experience in dealing with Congress and the mammoth bureacracy that extended from under the umbrella of the executive branch, Mr. Carter had a few things to learn about running the nation. Some of the ideas he espoused during his cam paign bumped headlong into the wall of Washington politics.
His most impressive successes came in foreign affairs: the 1978 Camp David summit with the leaders of Egypt and Israel that yielded a peace treaty between the two countries; official diplomatic recognition to the People's Re public of China; successful negotiation of the SALT II treaty although it has yet to be ratified; and negotiating, lobbying for, and winning passage of the Pa nama Canal treaties. And his emphasis on human rights has had an impact on people in many nations.
Yet the Carter brand of diplomacy has yet to resolve the hostage crisis in Iran, which will be one year old if it lasts to election day. Soviet troops remain firmly entrenched in Afghanistan despite US sanctions. The US is walking a diplomatic tightrope in the fighting between Iran and Iraq. And Carter's critics charge that his administration has an inconsistent, vacillating foreign policy.
At home, the President moved through Congress the first comprehensive legislative package to deal with the country's expanding energy problem; although the final product reflected more political horse-trading than the Presi dent had bargained for. He signed into law the Alaska lands bill, which has been described as the century's most important piece of environmental legisla tion.
But the President's attempts at solving the nation's chronic economic prob lems were noticeable for their lack of success. Carter's implementation of credit controls in a get-tough policy on consumer spending forced the prime interest rate to a record high. Unemployment reached nearly 8 percent nation ally and neared Depression levels in certain parts of the country, as tight money policies and the consumer's growing predilection for imported products grew. Meanwhile, economists projected a 13.3 percent inflation rate for 1980.
On July 16, 19, 20, 21 and 22, 1976, the Monitor explored in a five-part series the background of the then-presidential candidate from Plains, Ga. Now Moni tor correspondent Richard L. Strout provides a similar look at Carter's first term in office.